French Film Festival UK highlights

Titles to catch at the Francophile festival as it tours the UK

by Amber Wilkinson, Anne-Katrin Titze

Robust
Robust

The French Film Festival UK has opened this week with crowdpleaser The Big Hit and will be travelling to more than 30 cinemas across the country between now and December 15. Featuring the best of French language cinema from France and beyond, we've selected some of festival highlights to look out for. For full details of where and when you can see each film, visit the official site.

Robust (Robuste)

Belgian filmmaker Constance Meyer makes an assured debut with this gentle consideration of human connection that is powered by the luminous performances from Gérard Depardieu and up-and-coming French star Déborah Lukumuena. Depardieu has fun playing an actor who has among his traits some that are not so very far removed from the actor himself. Lukumena is Aïssa, who is assigned to provide him with security detail, whether he wants it or not. This sort of odd-couple comedy could easily - some might say cheaply - have been played for broad laughs, but Meyer has her eye and heart set on a much more discerning look at loneliness, longing, dedication and bonding that allows the actors to bring their full range of talents to the roles.

Playground (Un Monde)

Playground
Playground Photo: Courtesy of Cannes Film Festival
Laura Wandell has already collected several accolades for her debut feature, including the Belgian nomination for Best International Feature at next year's Oscars. All are well deserved, as Wandell takes us back to school to teach us a lesson or two about bullying. She adopts a child's eye view as little Nora (Maya Vanderbeque) starts her school life full of trepidation even though she hopes to see her elder brother Abel (Günter Duret) at break times. We stay with Nora as she navigates early tentative friendships but also as she begins to witness Abel getting picked on by older boys. Wandell captures the intense anxiety of the situation and the poisonous impact that bullying has on everyone around it, the negative emotions seeping out until Nora's friendships and her relationship with her brother also begin to be tainted. Sharply observed and acted with naturalism for its young cast, Wandell shows how children pay attention to the details adults often miss. Full review coming soon.

Petite Maman

Petite Maman
Petite Maman Photo: Neon
Also adopting a child's eye view of emotions is Celine Sciamma's short but perfectly formed fable. After Nelly's grandma dies, the eight-year-old goes with her mum Marion (Nina Meurisse) to help clear her gran's house. There, while out in the woods, she comes across a young girl of the same age... whose name also happens to be Marion and who, it seems, lives in the same house, although a different route is taken to it. Stitched carefully together by mutual understanding, this is time travel at its most subtle, as Sciamma explores parent and child bonds, while also celebrating the energy and acceptance of childhood. Like her earlier film Tomboy, it's filled with perfect shared moments - from the children (played by twins (Joséphine and Gabrielle Sange) messily making crepes or sharing their hopes and fears to Nelly nibbling on a cheese puff like a rabbit, while occasionally feeding her mum one as she drives the car. This is a film full of autumnal colour - perfect for this time of year - and that feels built entirely from love. Full review coming soon.

I Want to Talk About Duras (Vous Ne Désirez Que Moi) 

I Want To Talk About Duras
I Want To Talk About Duras Photo: Courtesy of San Sebastian Film Festival
Anne-Katrin Titze writes: In early December 1982, Yann Andréa, longtime lover of Marguerite Duras, decided to speak to Marie Claire journalist Michèle Manceaux about his relationship to the famous novelist and filmmaker who was 38 years his senior, mainly to gain more understanding about himself. He, a gay man, fell completely under her spell, at first for her writing, then for the person he wrote to for a year before she responded. He had met Duras at a post-screening Q&A of India Song and shyly approached her. Swann Arlaud as Yann Andréa and Emmanuelle Devos as Michèle Manceaux give tremendous performances that circle around discoveries of deep personal truths in Claire Simon’s beautifully staged film, which also screened recently at New York Film Festival. When they meet for the two audiotaped sessions one day apart, Duras, as an invisible presence, can be felt through the floorboards below, and, because she interrupts with instinctively strategically placed phone calls, offering coffee and impatience.

A Radiant Girl (Une Jeune Fille Qui Va Bien)   

A Radiant Girl
A Radiant Girl
Anne-Katrin Titze writes: Sandrine Kiberlain’s début feature, which had its world premiere in the Critics’ Week of the 2021 Cannes Film Festival, contains sparkling moments of illumination where the historical context of Paris in the summer of 1942 enters into a dialogue with lines by Marivaux from 1740, as well as a coming-of-age tale that is as old and new as theatre itself. Irène, played by the magnificent Rebecca Marder (a member of the Comédie Française who also stars in Arnaud Desplechin's Deception), is well on her way to become an actress. She is a force of nature who can’t sit still, and the “radiant” of the English title (in the original French she is merely doing well) is no exaggeration. Her energy level and enthusiasm for make-believe can be a nuisance for her father (André Marcon) and her older brother Igor (Anthony Bajon). Her grandmother Marceline (Françoise Widhoff) is the one she confides in about crushes and not-so crushes on boys. In the evening, she works as an usher in the theatre and during the day, she rehearses with her gang of acting friends and prepares for the entrance exam of the conservatory. When Jo (Ben Attal) disappears with no warning, Irène is left without a partner for her audition piece from L'Épreuve by Pierre de Marivaux. Her friend Viviane (India Hair) comes to the rescue, adding some additional interesting gender dynamics.

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